Chris Heisey made people stand up and take notice in 2009. That’s not to say the Reds outfield prospect hadn’t performed admirably since being taken in the 17th round of the 2006 draft from Division III Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, but he also had fallen short of distinguishing himself. Last year that changed. In 585 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A, Heisey hit a robust 314/.379/.521 with 22 home runs, and for good measure he swiped 21 bases in 24 attempts. Heisey will go into spring training looking to compete for the Reds left-field job, and talked with David about his game and a few of his teammates on the final weekend of the Arizona Fall League season last November.
David Laurila: To start, can you give a self scouting report?
Chris Heisey: Mostly, I just go out there and try to play the game the right way. I can run a little bit. I have an average arm. I can bunt for base hits but feel that I can also hit the ball for a little bit of power. But really, I think the biggest thing is that I try to be fundamentally sound, like being in the right position on defense, backing up bases, and that sort of thing.
DL: Do people in the Reds front office have a similar view of you?
CH: In all honesty, I don’t know. I don’t spend a whole lot of time talking to people in the upper-level positions; we don’t really have a ton of contact with them. But I would hope that is what they’d say, that I play the game the right way and that while I maybe don’t have one tool that stands out, I can do a number of things pretty well.
DL: You’ve reportedly made mechanical adjustments to help improve your timing. Can you elaborate on what those adjustments were?
CH: I just concentrated on getting myself in a position to hit a lot earlier than I used to. I used to have a wide stance where I kind of tried to get a load going before the pitch and a lot of times my front foot wasn’t getting down on time. So, what I essentially did was kind of just pre-set. I start off standing pretty much straight up and then I kind of sink into it. That’s pretty early, and then I just kind of wait there a little bit and get a little rhythm with my hands and my lower body. I stride a tiny bit, but it’s almost a no-stride swing.
DL: Has that impacted your power in any way?
CH: No, in fact…I guess, maybe. I possibly don’t hit the ball quite as far, but power came from making more solid contact this year. In years past, I’d hit a lot of balls off the end of the bat, or I’d get jammed a lot, just because of my timing. This year I was able to make a lot more solid contact, which translated into more power.
DL: Was the adjustment suggested by one of your hitting coaches?
CH: Our minor league hitting coordinator is Ronnie Ortegon, and he worked a lot with me in spring training. He and I get along well and he always kept telling me, “Your timing is late, your timing is late,” and it was getting kind of frustrating because I didn’t feel that to be the case. But he was persistent. He kept staying on me and with about three games left in spring training I kind of just moved to the opposite end and made my timing so early that it couldn’t be late. I started having some success, and I hadn’t been having hardly any that spring training, so I’m thankful that he kept pushing me and pushing me to make some changes in my timing. So far it has worked out.
DL: Has the adjustment helped you to do a better job of using the whole field?
CH: Yes, although I’m still generally more of a pull hitter. I don’t spread the ball around as much as maybe I’d like to, but what has really translated is hitting right-handers and their breaking balls. Up until this past year, I really hadn’t done a whole lot with right-handed sliders and curveballs, and probably half of my home runs this season were on right-handed breaking balls. That solely comes from my timing and being able to stay back. That’s been the biggest thing with the adjustment – being able to hit right-handed pitchers.
DL: Do you pay more attention to your batting average or your on-base percentage?
CH: I would say on base percentage for sure. It’s more important. Getting on base is the whole point of the game, because that’s how you end up scoring runs, so I’d like to increase my walk numbers a little bit. But while I’d like to walk more than I do, at the same time I like to stay aggressive. I’ll still swing early in the count, because usually that’s when you get a good fastball to hit. I think there’s a fine line between walking a lot and not being aggressive enough, so I like to balance those two out.
DL: You and Drew Stubbs have come up through the system together. How similar are the two of you as players?
CH: We’re both guys that can run, and he does a pretty good job of getting on base; he walks a lot. I think we’re fairly similar, to be honest.
DL: Do you see Drew as a guy who is going to hit for power in the big leagues?
CH: Drew hit’s a lot of home runs in batting practice. He can hit the ball a long way; he’s got a lot of strength. He’s tall and pretty wiry, and he develops a lot of torque in his swing. For him, I don’t think it’s ever been about being able to hit for power. It’s been about what I said I’m trying to do, which is going out and trying to make more solid contact. I don’t know if he shortened his swing to try to make more contact, but he definitely has power and I’ve seen him hit some balls a long way. He definitely has a chance to hit some home runs.
DL: I saw in an interview where you said you’re well-suited for the two-hole.
CH: Yeah, that’s probably where I enjoy hitting the most. I feel that I can get on base and also bunt for base hits and move guys around. I feel comfortable bunting, so I’m pretty comfortable in the two-hole.
DL: How much does the organization value bunting?
CH: I think that maybe if you’re a three, four or five guy, you’re not going to bunt, but other than that, they like guys to be able to do it. That really goes for anywhere. You should be able to move a guy over or take advantage of an infielder playing back by bunting for a base hit, and I think I can do both of those things.
DL: Where is your defensive game right now?
CH: I think it’s pretty good. My arm has gotten a lot better since I was drafted, and I feel like my range is just as good as it has always been. I’m still working on taking the best routes that I can to the ball.
DL: Do you see yourself as primarily a corner outfielder?
CH: No, I think that I can play center field as well as a lot of guys can. I played that in college and I’ve played a lot of center field in the minor leagues, and I definitely take pride in the fact that I can play all three outfield positions. Drew can play center field really well, though, so I’ll play wherever they put me.
CH: Both of those guys are excellent baseball players. They like to play the game and take it seriously; they spend a lot of time in the batting cage working on their swings. And both are fun to be around; they both have good personalities. They can definitely play the game, although Todd is one of those guys who maybe doesn’t do things quite as orthodox as other guys do. But he finds a way to hit the ball. I mean, it is fun to watch him hit it. Alonso is the same thing. He’s got a good-looking swing, but what really impresses me about him is that he has really good strike-zone judgment. He doesn’t swing at a lot of bad pitches, and I think that’s something that is going to translate well for him as he moves up levels.
DL: To close, what would like people to know about you?
CH: Baseball-wise, it’s that I value playing the game the right way and come out and play hard every day. Off the field, I’m a good guy and an honest guy, and people like to be around me. At least I hope that’s what I’m like.